Research: Partnership History and Mental Health over Time

Study Objective

To describe the mental health of men and women with differing histories of partnership transitions.


Data from nine waves of the British Household Panel Survey, a stratified general population sample, were used to calculate age standardised ratios and 95% confidence intervals for mean General Health Questionnaire scores for groups with different partnership transition histories.


2,127 men and 2,303 women aged under 65 who provided full interviews at every survey wave.

Main Results

Enduring first partnerships were associated with good mental health. Partnership splits were associated with poorer mental health, although the reformation of partnerships partially reversed this. Cohabiting was more beneficial to men’s mental health, whereas marriage was more beneficial to women’s mental health. The more recently a partnership split had occurred the greater the negative outcome for mental health. Women seemed more adversely affected by multiple partnership transitions and to take longer to recover from partnership splits than men. Single women had good mental health relative to other women but the same was not true for single men relative to other male partnership groups.


Partnership was protective of mental health. Mental health was worse immediately after partnership splits, and the negative outcomes for health were longer lasting in women. Future work should consider other factors that may mediate, confound, or jointly determine the relation between partnership change and health.


Willitts, M., Benzeval, M. & Stansfield, S. (2004) Partnership History and Mental Health Over Time. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 58(1), pp.53-58.

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